The terror in a boy's screams after he fell into the icy St. Joseph River hasn't faded from the memory of a Purdue Fort Wayne police officer.
BreAnna Wojnarowski hasn't spoken to the boy since Jan. 18, when the sounds propelled her into lifesaving actions. But after the rescue, she followed with a “loving lecture” about walking on ice.
“That little man's screams, like chief said, will stick in my head,” Officer Wojnarowski said Monday during a ceremony celebrating her heroism. “It's probably the reason I jumped into action so quickly.”
John Cox, chief of the Purdue University Police Department, traveled from West Lafayette to present Wojnarowski with a few honors, including the One Brick Higher award.
It is presented to Purdue students and employees who exceed the requirements of their role and, through extraordinary effort, improve the lives of those around them, increase the effectiveness of the workplace or prevent or solve problems.
“I think what Bre did was exactly that,” Cox said, noting that Purdue President Mitch Daniels decided to bestow Wojnarowski with the recognition.
Wojnarowski's mother, Valerie, pinned a lifesaving award to her daughter's uniform.
“When I look at what she had to navigate, that situation could have gone so bad in so many ways,” said Tim Potts, campus police chief.
Wojnarowski found the boy with the help of a citizen who saw the child riding a bicycle about 8:30 p.m. along Coliseum Boulevard, Potts said. He noted the citizen followed the boy out of concern for his safety.
They saw what they believed were the bicycle's reflectors, Potts said. Wojnarowski went down the hill and into the ravine, he said, and that's when she heard the boy scream.
“She just snapped into action,” Potts said. “You're not trained at the law enforcement academy on how to do that.”
Potts said he didn't fully appreciate Wojnarowski's efforts until he saw the scene in daylight. She navigated an estimated 45 to 60 yards through chunks of ice, tree branches and other debris to reach the boy. Wojnarowski said the citizen shone a light so she could see.
Medical personnel assessed the boy and Wojnarowski, who were deemed to be in good health. The boy, who was about 10 years old, was trying to walk across the river, Wojnarowski said.
“He thought he could make it,” she said.
Wojnarowski, who will mark four years with the campus police department in April, said she won't forget the support she's received from campus.
“I've been reached out to by people I honestly don't even know,” Wojnarowski said, fighting to talk through emotion. “It's really, really appreciated.”